“MY PROFESSION KEEPS ME IN HANDCUFFS !” THEN and NOW… by Deana Murray

Fred Pittela - Houdini Magic

If you grew up in New York City circa 1960, your childhood heroes are SLYDINI, DUNNINGER, LOU TANNEN, AMADEO, AL FLOSSO, or LARRY WEEKS. And you can’t get better than that. Especially in the magic world of the time. You’ll learn there is “no age difference in magic, only levels of experience and passion.” If you’re a kid, it’s a great time to be a kid!!! What you don’t know yet are the code names or back stories for certain moves, although you’ll overhear quite a few over time. This makes you (1) a good audience and (2) an eager apprentice. Which means you’ll work for free – in trade for knowledge or props.

FRED PITTELLA was THAT KID – AT THAT TIME – in THAT CITY !!!

Fred’s story is the story of heroes, introductions and inspirations that transformed him. Without knowing it at the time, the true hero for a “COLLECTOR” of magic is at least three-fold, with a double lift!*

There’s the person who helps you find your niche. The one who gives you insights into the temperament of people and apparatus. Who knows what sparks and what deserves your attention. Who encourages you and helps others along the way. (This would be Fred’s DAD, a Master Woodworker, a.k.a. “The Chief”).

Fred wasn’t into sports, so his dad thought he might enjoy a visit to Tannan’s and Flosso’s Magic Shops.

There’s the person who first lets you in on a secret. Maybe it begins with a small gesture or guideline, but it feels like ‘the secret to the universe’ — and tomorrow, there’s more… (This would be LESTER (“Larry”) WEEKS who worked at Flosso’s.) Larry was like ‘the godfather’ of magic. Larry was a juggler and magician for more than one Irving Berlin Show. He introduced Fred to the world of magic, magicians and performance – up close and personal.

Specific Collections are born out of the kind of passion Magic inspires — and requires. Visual or virtual, they are memories of our heroes. They personify alternate outcomes. Strength over adversity. Hope and morality. Character above and beyond the norm. Fred’s admiration of desirable traits led him to collecting all things… HOUDINI!

Fred got his first magic book at age 8 or 9. Within a few years, and a few trips to the Magic Shops, his interest intensified. Fred could “lose himself for hours.” His magical escapes became focused on “ESCAPES.” Then, in a pivotal moment, at age 15, his collection began. He was forever changed. He saw the Collection of Houdini Cuffs owned by Larry Weeks… “It was enticing.” Defining really. The direction of a lifelong interest… to locate and showcase the escapes, tools and media accounts of Houdini. Fred’s first vintage purchase: The “Bean Giants” handcuffs.

By age 17, Fred was selling magic at booths for Jack Chanin. Collecting and fitting in with all the famous and not so famous magicians who lived or traveled through New York City.

Through the years, his own collection advanced. Objects, tools, media flyers and posters of Houdini and other Escape Artists to include Taft, Pitroff , Kassner (Man in the Can). Fred’s dad made cases and bookshelves, themselves museum quality, to display Fred’s escapes as an art form. Through collecting and performing, Fred became a Member of the S.A.M. Long Island Mystics, the Inner Circle of Sid Radner’s “Houdini’s Séance” in Scranton, Pa. and co-founder of “Escape Masters”.

Fred’s advice: “Try to buy where and when you find it. Some deals are better than others. It all evens out. You can upgrade later if you find a better piece. It’s always good to have something to trade. Research will verify provenance and value.”

And Fred doesn’t just collect from the PAST. He shares (via his Museum) the best collection of Houdini and contemporaries one can find in pictures, memorabilia, artifacts, and rare handcuffs. He also creates moments for the NOW. Fred is accomplished in another visionary rainbow over our world — that of costumes and fashion. He sells the beautifully made and extreme designs you see for Halloween and Theme Parties. His eyes and doors are always open to what might spark young imaginations.

Fred’s genius is in partnering his day job with the same fantasy of heroes and hope and escapism as his Houdini Collection which can be visited at: — www.houdiniandescapesmuseum.com

“Yes,” Fred says… “My profession keeps me in hand cuffs !”

(*And the double lift…) “It’s more than the collection, it’s the people I’ve met along the way that inspired me.”

HOUDINI {April 6, 1874 – October 31, 1926}

Quotes from the BILLBOARD 11-6-26
“In recent years Houdini devoted much of his time and talent to the exposure of fraudulent spirit mediums. He brought to light hundreds of professional fakers and offered $10,000 to any medium who could produce phenomena which he could not duplicate by his muscular strength, endurance and knowledge of mechanics.”

“He was elected nine times as president of the Society of American Magicians, a position he held at the time of his death. His library of magic is said to be the most complete in the world.”

P.S. Houdini had heroes of his own. He had collections of his own. He debunked fakers and unskilled performers as disguisers of the authentic… Houdini offered the promise of ESCAPE and HOPE made plausible by using REAL HANDCUFFS to demonstrate his point. Respectfully, he also knew the importance of entertainment. Some props had to be invented or modified to fit the applications of his unforgettable performance style.